Jacques Le Goff, the well-known French historian, once wrote: “Europe has had a name for 25 centuries, but it is still at the project stage”. And it is likely to remain at this stage – of not just one project but many – for a long time to come, since this is the way the creative action of politics, at the high level to which we owe the decisive moves in European integration, functions. But it is certainly projects and strategic visions that are needed, especially today when Europe seems to be floundering in the midst of uncertainties about the Euro exchange rate, the prospect of great enlargement of its frontiers and the initial signs of a crisis of confidence among its citizens.
The speech by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer last Friday at the Humboldt University had one essential merit from this viewpoint: the debate on Europe’s future and the organization of the “enlarged” Union has at long last attracted the attention of the media and public opinion. It is no longer confined to academic venues and think-tanks, nor circumscribed to the offices of the diplomats who have for several weeks now been negotiating the revision of the Amsterdam Treaty. And it is a good thing that European citizens, the demos to which any responsible leader has to refer, are informed and involved in a broader public confrontation than the Union’s “political objective”, over and above the reforms, essential as they are, to decision-making machinery currently under discussion at the Inter-Governmental Conference.
I. Even before Fischer, Jacques Delors, in relaunching his proposal to make Europe a “Federation of nation States” led by a vanguard grouped around the six founding Community countries – and then Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt with their idea of setting the integration process going again, starting with the “Euro-Europeans” – had attempted to open the debate on “Quo vadis, Europa?” This is the point Fischer too starts from, with a speech seen in several quarters as a relaunch in grand style of the guiding principles of the federalist tradition: a noble tradition which in Germany – as in Italy – has become solidly and lastingly rooted in public elites and among the citizens, quite apart from their various political preferences and party affiliations. In fact, over and above the words used, the proposals Fischer set forth (if only on a personal basis) are aimed at updating the old life-giving ideas of European federalism in the light of the changes that have come at the end of the twentieth century, and especially of the prospect of enlargement. I should like to recall in this connection what Altiero Spinelli himself, one of the founding fathers and key figures of that tradition, said towards the end of his own prestigious career: “The European architecture we set up,” he said on the eve of the Single Act, “was the product of the tension between the radical vision of the federalists and the pragmatic approach of the statesmen. Without that tension nothing would have been attained: the federalists’ vision would have remained a utopia, and the essentially conservative pragmatism of the statesmen would have led nowhere”.
In short, it is in this mix between ideal positions and their implementation through compatible decisions and functional institutions that the true “engine” of the integration process lies – a process which, like Freudian analysis, is probably endless. There is no pre-established, shared access point; it does not proceed linearly; it is not self-referential, but interacts with the internal and external environment for compromises, feedback and new inputs.
This is, I believe, the reason why the real problem is not to accelerate in the direction of some more-or-less preset “federal” objective, desired by some but feared by others, which would at bottom consist in transferring to European level – European Union level – some powers and attributes of the nation States. On the contrary, and paradoxically, the years when the Community most grew and developed were the very ones when the nation States were strongest, thanks to expansion of the public sector and creation of the Welfare State. Today by contrast the nation States are tending more to withdraw from the economy and from society itself, to play a regulatory rather than interventionist role: it is consequently hard to conceive of regaining at supranational level this now lost power of “command”, when today markets no longer coincide with States, and world-wide “networks” are determining not just the new economy but the entire spectrum of our public and personal relations.
In any case, even Fischer does not set himself this objective. It is true that he tends somewhat to see the future Europe as a Bundesrepublik writ large, with the same levels of governance and “division of sovereignty” as the German system; but he does not overlook the fact that the civic traditions even of the fifteen current members are too different from each other to be brought under a single model, one size fits all.
The Union remains at bottom a bold joint venture among partners: it proceeds by successive advances and adjustments, combining integration and cooperation, joint structures and classic intergovernmental compromises, standards to be reached and mutual control actions. Decisions are increasingly “brussellized”, but public opinion is still essentially national, while some of the themes that mobilize it (human rights, for instance) are not specifically European, but rather universal. In short, more than by “division of sovereignty” the Union proceeds by “shared sovereignties”: where the “sovereignty” is not a fixed, indivisible quantity, but a function of a complex, changing process where integration and cooperation are not anodyne games among States and institutions, but shift the locus, and especially change the nature, of government. What all this means is that the areas of political legitimacy, cultural identity and economic integration are inevitably manifold even within each Member State: competences and powers will be distributed and in part dispersed to various levels – upwards and downwards – with solutions that differ case by case.
It is in this context of the construction of a multi-level system of government (as the technical jargon goes) that we absolutely have to safeguard the central, original concern of federalism, namely to indicate to the continent’s citizens and elites what Jacques Delors, the most creative interpreter of this tradition, liked to call the “costs of non-Europe”: the potentially destructive consequences of a defensive reflex and a conservative fall-back, in the face of the challenges of the age. In this sense, the reminders from Delors himself, Giscard and Schmidt – all elder Statesmen whose competence and European convictions are beyond doubt – are aimed at projecting today’s negotiations onto a less contingent and conditioned vision of the choices to be made. And the appeals from Fischer, himself one of the “Statesmen” in active service, are indubitably useful in the search for a balance between strategic visions and possible solutions: in the light of a Europe that will essentially need a central core in order not to stumble blindly in face of an enlargement that might otherwise reduce it to a mere economic area.
II. The three main points on the agenda for the Intergovernmental Conference, for instance, appear technical: but seen properly from a strategic perspective they have an anything but secondary impact on the way the Union can function in coming years. The composition of the Community executive, the weight in decisions of each country and the areas where there has to be a move from unanimous to qualified-majority voting are the key features for defining the balance between democracy and efficiency, representativeness and effectiveness, in the “enlarged” EU. It is however clear that if tackled in negotiations confined to these points only they risk exacerbating the differences that already prevented agreement at Amsterdam, and increasing the mutual mistrust among the partners. If instead set within a perspective with greater scope, they might point a way out of the difficulties that afflict, inter alia, even the fifteen-member Union. In other words, new democratic rules are essential in order to make today’s institutions, and still more tomorrow’s, work. The countries wanting enlargement must be aware that there will not be any without some renunciation in terms of formal attributes of power by each and all, be it a second Commissioner, some seats at Strasbourg, “weighted” votes on Council or policies subject to the veto. For their part the countries wishing to enter the Union, who are today watching the institutional negotiations with great mistrust, have to realize that without more flexible decisional and administrative structures they will not be joining so early, or might derive less benefit from joining. All this is undoubtedly true for the strictly Community aspect of integration, in other words for the Single Market, monetary union and the common policies managed by the Commission.
And the countries wanting real “deepening”? It is here at this delicate juncture that the visions of some and the immediate imperatives of others will join – or clash. It is beyond doubt that the six Community founding Members have the right and the duty to relaunch the debate and the initiative on the Union’s “political objective”. And it is beyond doubt that in the past Europe has had, and how, a sort of “vanguard”, or “engine”, namely the Franco-German or rather Paris-Bonn axis, round and alongside which Italy and the Benelux countries have played an important socializing and mediating part. Subsequently other countries – starting with Spain and Portugal – joined this “leadership” group for integration, even if the start of monetary union temporarily created tensions within it.
Today, though, the position looks different. The relaunch of the Franco-German entente under way, without or against which integration cannot advance, is beyond all doubt desirable and I would even say essential; at the same time the present Union, and still more the future one, needs a “centre of gravity” (something more than an axis, but also more than a “hard core”) that is broader and better organized. It must be broader in both composition and scope, and better organized as a system: for the Schengen agreements and the creation of the common space in justice and home affairs, and especially the strengthening of common foreign and security policy (CFSP), have considerably “enlarged” the Union’s areas of activity and ambitions for intervention. But the countries most interested in cooperating and integrating into these new policies (including the new defence dimension) are not always and necessarily the same, even though there are, for instance, many similarities among Euro, Schengen and WEU/NATO Members. The chief difference, though not the only one, concerns Britain, which, on Blair’s initiative, has for over a year headed the European effort to arrive at an autonomous European crisis-management capacity, in military terms too – yet is outside the Euro and outside Schengen.
One of the EU’s great questions today is, rightly, “Quo vadis, Britannia?”: for without Britain the possible “centre of gravity” might perhaps be more compact, but it would also be weaker politically, financially and militarily, and poorer culturally. Moreover, the “centre of gravity” we have mentioned would, in order to be credible and effective, have to be basically homogeneous and relatively uniform, in other words, bring together more or less the same countries in all the main policies.
III. To open the road to a prospect of this kind, and to come back to the starting point – namely how to combine strategic thinking with the technical aspects of the ongoing diplomatic negotiations – it is essential for the Intergovernmental Conference to tackle boldly a revision of the provisions on flexibility, or rather on “enhanced” cooperation. Those at present in force, painfully negotiated at Amsterdam, are not very usable since by guaranteeing everyone they end up not guaranteeing anyone, and encouraging cooperation outside the treaties and the common institutions. Nonetheless, paradoxically, the strengthened types of cooperation are not so important for the Community “pillar” they were initially designed for: at bottom, if we extend recourse to qualified-majority voting, the Single Market conceived fifty years ago by Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman and the common policies and institutions that accompany it will be truly completed, so as to be able soon to be extended to the candidate countries. Enhanced cooperation is instead crucial in the new “building sites” of the integration process – justice, immigration, security and defence – where the acquis still all remains to be created, and where, as with the Community twenty or thirty years ago, a certain initial level of homogeneity and convergence is essential. If it were easier – in relation to the possible “centre of gravity” already mentioned – to embark on enhanced cooperation perhaps using the institutions and the budget of the EU, that would constitute a major stimulus to “deepen” integration in an increasingly larger, more diversified Europe. That would among other things multiply the “magnet” effect of the “centre of gravity”: partners not initially interested in enhanced cooperation, or not qualified, would soon see themselves encouraged to join in order not to remain excluded from the foreseeable benefits (functionally and politically). Basically, this is what happened – mutatis mutandis – with both the monetary union and Schengen, which ended up incorporating more countries than initially planned or imagined.
In short, the great enlarged Europe needs a vital core: as an instrument for integration, not division; and as an instrument open to countries interested in joining, as has been the case with the Community in recent decades.
This would in some sense mean going back to the future: enriched with visions, but also with concrete experience – of a new stage in Europe’s never-ending course.